While shopping at a Christian bookstore, N.C. Harrison encounters a cardboard cutout of Uncle Si from the Duck Dynasty show that dwarfs a similar cutout of Jesus Christ…and quickly realizes that this makes perfect sense.
The holiday season, meaning that great time of vaguely defined, force-fed American festivity stretching from Black Friday to New Year’s Day, is almost upon us. Although some of my friends and I are attempting to keep the Halloween spirit alive by participating in zombie themed athletic events, terrifying children, and posting appropriately creepy post-rock songs to Facebook the work has been overwhelmed, to say the least, by many stores putting up their Christmas decorations well before Labor Day. Thanksgiving, because it involves neither presents nor candy, suffers even more terribly than Halloween. Although for food fans (like me), the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions this Thursday is always “game day,” for most of our countrymen and women it lies in the valley of a gluttonous haze between Christmas and her aforementioned little brother Halloween. I don’t say this in judgment, but rather just in pointing out how things have gone in the development of American popular social culture in the twenty-first century.
As a member of that popular social culture, I did a little preliminary Christmas scouting, a precursor to Christmas shopping, at a local Christian bookstore in my Southern metropolitan area. It is, as Southern metropolitan areas go, neither as bustling as Atlanta nor as quaint as Savannah, but serves both geographically and psychologically as a sort of middle ground between them. The front window display in this store featured three celebrity figures in an advertising push for the holidays. One, Jesus Christ, made a fair amount of sense to me, at least for a Christian book store. The holiday, after all, is the occasion upon which Christians celebrate our Messiah’s (presumably) autumnal birth. The other two, Frosty the Snowman and “Uncle Si” Robertson, were a little more puzzling to me. They formed a sort of Holy Trinity with Jesus as the Son–as per usual–and Frosty and Uncle Si standing in for the Spirit and Father, respectively.
I do not have a problem with Frosty the Snowman, even hanging out in the window of a Christian bookstore. He is a decent sort of guy and we go back a long, long way, so I admit that I am kind of biased here. There really must have been some magic in that old black hat they found. Besides, Frosty is an American cultural icon: everyone knows the song, knows the story, and associates it with winter and the secular, American cultural celebration of Christmas. Since this particular iteration of Frosty the Snowman had a Bible verse printed on it, I could even justify his presence in a Christian bookstore–on a coffee mug, as an evangelistic tool–and thus Frosty did not bother me one little bit.
The life-sized cuttout of Uncle Si, on the other hand, did stick in my craw. I do not think about the Robertson family or Duck Dynasty very much. I know that my cousin adores them to an almost unreasonable degree and, since I adore my cousin to an almost unreasonable degree, I am glad that they make her so happy. I am also impressed to the core of my being by their thick, rich, flowing beards. These are the kind of profound beards that make a statement. I also know that my grandfather, who is a really cool old guy in general, worries a lot on Facebook about people persecuting them even though they are richer than either of us will be in our lives. I have also thought, ever since I encountered a bottle of Duck Dynasty themed antifreeze while shopping in Kroger and a little Buck Commander dolly that looked like Thorin Oakenshield and spouted calculatedly homespun wisdom when you poked his belly, that they were as skilled a crew of media whores as I have ever encountered in my life. These are whores that whore as hard as ever any crew did in an Old West mining town.
The level of shameless self-promotion which I have seen from these good folks, and the fact that the cutout of Uncle Si was larger than the cutout of Jesus, which seemed rather unusual, is likely what bothered me when I encountered them in this setting. I pointed this out, maybe a little flirtatiously, to the winsome register girl. “Uncle Si’s our biggest seller!” she chirped. “I guess that’s why he’s in the middle. So you see him when you first come in!” The irony of a reality television star forming the centerpiece of a Christian bookstore’s business did not register with her, but then again, many things probably didn’t.
“Really?” I said. “So, would you say that he’s bigger than Jesus?” I was trying to be witty, I guess, or at least half-witty.
“Hmm,” she said. “I don’t know. I don’t know how tall they are. I know the cuttout is. Was Jesus short?” I didn’t know what to say to this. I thanked her for her time–especially since I hadn’t bought anything and was mostly wasting it–and left. It occured to me, on the way home, that it’s probably okay, even a good thing, that Uncle Si has a bigger cardboard cuttout than Jesus–even in the Christian bookstore–and even that he gets more of a hot-spot in their advertising campaign. “If the world hates you,” Jesus told His followers in John 15:18, “remember that it hated Me first.” The slick, the glib, and the beautifully bearded will fade away, just as Kansas said that dust in the wind would, but those things which matter will remain.